Schools offer support to students, employees

Counselors on site at Christopher, Live Oak high schools

With hundreds of local students, school employees and their families volunteering at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival—many on Sunday when a gunman opened fire on the festival crowd—school district officials in both Gilroy and Morgan Hill offered crisis support counseling services for those affected.

In Gilroy at Christopher High School, 850 Day Road, crisis counselors were on hand Monday until 5pm, according to a Gilroy Unified School District announcement.

“We stand strong together with the entire Gilroy community to pray for our friends and neighbors affected by the horrific events at the Gilroy Garlic Festival this afternoon,” reads the July 28 message.

Gilroy school officials also provided a link on tips for parents and teachers on “Talking to Children about Violence” from the National Association of Psychologists.

Nearly all Gilroy sports teams and other school clubs volunteer at the festival each year, logging hours as a major fundraising effort for their specific team. School officials estimated that between 400-500 students were involved in one way or another at the festival.

Most high school sports teams, cheerleaders, bands and choir, as well as individual schools had booths at the Garlic Festival and student volunteers completed shifts in these booths there and in Gourmet Alley as they do every year, according to Gilroy superintendent Deborah Flores.

“I know we will not let horrific acts of violence like this diminish our love for this wonderful community,” Flores said. “We are strong and we will overcome this tragedy.”

The festival provides nearly $90,000 to organizations in and affiliated with the Gilroy school district. Flores said without the Garlic Festival “many (school) programs and activities could not happen as the funds typically are used to cover the cost of uniforms, buses to competitions, fees for competitions, and so much more.”

James Pace, Gilroy’s Board of Education President, believes the Gilroy community will overcome and the school district will help in the healing process. His wife and son were at the festival earlier Sunday prior to the shooting.

“Like the rest of our community, I am devastated,” Pace said. “The Garlic Festival highlights all that is great about Gilroy: the community, including many staff and students of Gilroy Unified, working together to welcome visitors from around the world to our wonderful celebration. This terrible event won’t change who we are.”

Twenty-five Live Oak High School band members were working the festival throughout the weekend and Sunday along with bus drivers from Morgan Hill Unified School District, according communications coordinator Lanae Bays.

“We had bus drivers transporting people to and from the parking lots utilizing Morgan Hill Unified buses for that,” Bays said.

The morning after a 19-year-old gunman killed three people, Morgan Hill opened Live Oak High School, 1505 E. Main Ave., for crisis support services to any of its students and employees from 9am to 3pm July 29-30.

“The district would like to express heartfelt concern for those affected,” reads the district’s July 28 posting. “We are offering crisis support services for any Morgan Hill Unified employees, students and their families who  were impacted by this senseless tragedy today.”

The Live Oak band members were volunteering preparing steak sandwiches in Gourmet Alley festival during the shooting.

“There will never be a justified reason for any harm to innocent beings,” said Morgan Hill superintendent Steve Betando in an email to school district staff. “The incident over the weekend is a reminder of both how one person’s or a few individuals’ ill intent can destroy and disrupt so many lives, but also how susceptible each of us is to the crazed thoughts and actions of any deranged individual.”

At a press conference Sunday evening at Gavilan College, Brian Bowe, Executive Director of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, said: “Gilroy is an amazing, tightly-knit community. We are family. We have had the wonderful opportunity in this community to celebrate our family through our Garlic Festival, and for over four decades that festival has been our annual family reunion. It’s such a sad, just horribly upsetting circumstance that this happened on the third and final day of this year’s festival.”

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